Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Spider-Woman 11, originally released September 28th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
The five stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.
Drew: As a psychological heuristic, Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief is arguably as well-known as Freud’s id, ego, and super-ego structural model. However, that may make it one of the most misunderstood, as Kübler-Ross explains in the quote above. We often talk about those five stages as if they fall into a prescribed linear order, but it was never really meant to be understood in that way. Which is to say: someone experiencing grief may feel any or none of these feelings in any order or any combination. Grief is a remarkably complex phenomenon that everyone experiences differently — some might feel mostly depression or mostly denial, while others, like Jessica Drew in Spider-Woman 11, feel mostly anger.
Kübler-Ross might understand anger as a natural part of anyone’s grief, but Jess has quite a bit to be angry about. It’s a scenario that’s designed to be as morally confusing as possible, but it puts Jess in a unique position from her relationships to the players involved: a dear friend was killed by an ex-boyfriend in a situation largely orchestrated by her best friend. Those last two relationships are relatively fresh in my mind, but writer Dennis Hopeless knows that we may need a refresher on Jess’ friendship with Bruce Banner. To that end, he devises a heartbreakingly sweet flashback sequence.
Artist Veronica Fish gets in some brilliant character work here, giving Jess a casual body-language that contrasts her tense anger throughout the rest of the issue. Indeed, Jess is in a kind of Hulk mode throughout the rest of the issue, smashing up both Banner’s secret lab and the Alpha Flight space station, though she is able to pause her rage long enough to have a congenial, productive conversation with Roger.
Actually, that conversation explicates the complexities of Jess’ feelings — we’ve seen the anger by then, but it’s there that she participates in bargaining and reveals a few hints of depression. Anger may be the easiest of the stages of grief to dramatize — especially when your character can punch people through walls when they want to — but the creative team comes up with an innovative way to express depression: color. Note the brightness of the Spider-Woman costume in the flashback sequence I included above in contrast to the darker colors used in the present-day sequences:
Obviously, there are important scene-lighting factors to consider — the flashback was set during the day, while these other sequences are set at night — but the net effect is a darkening of Jessica’s world. If that’s not enough to convince you, check out the costume Jess wears while infiltrating the Alpha Flight HQ:
It’s completely desaturated, as if the color has literally drained out of Jessica’s life. Colorist Rachel Rosenberg cleverly eases us into this moment, keeping Jess in shadow until this moment, such that we might not notice the change until she’s contrasted against Captain Marvel’s garishly bright outfit. As with the darkness in Banner’s lab, we might understand this change as having a source within the narrative — a grey version of the Spider-Woman suit would definitely be better for stealth — but I think it also works devastatingly well as an indicator of Jess’ mental state. Lashing out at Carol isn’t colored by the bright red of anger, but the dull grey of depression.
Your mileage may vary on that reading, but I think it captures Jess’ shift in mood throughout the issue. At the start, all she wants to do is smash things, but by the time Carol is offering herself up to be smashed, Jess wants something else. Or, at least, she knows what she doesn’t want: to have anything to do with Carol. Indeed, by the issue’s end it’s impossible to say if Jess is just in grief over Bruce’s death, or if she’s also grieving the loss of her friendships with Carol and Clint. (I mention Clint because he hangs like a spectre over this issue, but the conclusion tightens the focus in on Carol, who has played a much larger role in this series in general.)
Spencer, I loved this issue. I’m regularly impressed by this series, and as usual, the creative team is firing on all cylinders. I’m particularly impressed with Fish’s work here — I enjoyed her tenure on Archie, but this is a revelation. She manages to find some continuity with Javier Rodriguez’s style without losing her identity, all while delivering an emotionally compelling issue. Did you enjoy this as much as I did?
Spencer: Absolutely, Drew, for all the reasons you mentioned and more. You’re right to praise Fish’s art — she delivers a remarkably confident first issue, and seems to be just as at home depicting gonzo action as she is subtle emotional beats.
This moment in particular really struck me. Jess, of course, is in an absolute rage, but there’s so much subtle nuance contained within Carol’s expression. Carol’s eyes betray her pain and sympathy, but the rest of her face is firm and resolute — the issue further goes on to show that, while Carol may be hurting, she’s putting business first, but you can glean that information from her expression here alone, without a single line of dialogue.
The fact that Carol is putting business first is understandable, but I think it’s also at the heart of why Jessica’s so upset at her. Look at Jess’s conversation with Roger compared to her talk with Carol. Jess is losing it in both scenarios, but Roger is able to calm her down by listening to her, and even more importantly, by acknowledging her feelings. When Jess asks to be pulled back from her ledge, Roger instead agrees with her, and validates her feelings about everything that’s gone down. He’s not necessarily saying that Jess is right, but that she could be, and that’s exactly what she needed to hear.
Carol, meanwhile, insists on “hugging it out,” skipping right to the happy ending without realizing that she hasn’t earned it in this situation. To be fair, she’s not insisting that she’s right, and her position as Jess’s best friend means that their relationship is intrinsically different than Jess and Roger’s, but still, Carol very much comes across like she’s brushing Jess’s feelings aside in order to explain and justify herself (or even Clint). I can see why Jessica would be upset.
Of course, Jess is also so angry because she never wanted to get wrapped up in Carol’s Ulysses nonsense in the first place.
Hopeless’s entire run has revolved around the idea that Spider-Woman was absolutely sick of the life of an Avenger. Ulysses, Civil War II, even the endlessly complicated scenario she describes in the image above are all exactly the type of scenarios Jess quit the Avengers in order to avoid, and the only reason she let herself get drawn into their orbit again is because Carol Danvers, her best friend in the entire world, quite literally begged her to help her out.
Considering Jess’s relationships with Carol, Clint, and Bruce, she would have had to deal with Bruce’s death no matter how far removed she was from the events of Civil War II. Thanks to Carol, though, she’s right in the thick of it; her own detective work seemed to support Ulysses’ visions, but now those same visions have led to Bruce Banner’s death. It seems pretty clear that Jess not only resents Carol for her role in Banner’s death, but for dragging her into it as well, for making her have any part of it at all.
Even if you’re fully, 100% on “Team Carol,” it’s pretty easy to look at the evidence presented in this issue and understand exactly why Jess would be ready to cut her out of her life entirely. Still, that doesn’t make it any less sad — Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel have become one of Marvel’s most iconic friendships, and it still hurts to see that come to an end. The full gravity of the loss hit me when I got to the teaser for next month’s issue: “Life’s A Beach (And So Is Sandman!)” That’s a scenario that almost certainly has nothing at all to do with Civil War II, which means that, even if their break-up isn’t permanent, it is something that’s going to last beyond this storyline. With or without Bruce Banner or Carol Danvers, life goes on.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?